Money-Saving Energy Tips From "This Old House" Pro

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
October 25, 2004

The rising costs of energy resources like oil and electricity may be beyond your control, but it's easy to use less energy in your home. The general contractor on PBS TV's This Old House, Tom Silva is an expert at home renovations and a master of energy efficiency. Silva shares tips on how to get the most out of your energy buck and make your home more environmentally friendly.

Silva's energy exam begins in the basement. "The biggest thing … is making sure that your gas or oil furnace is serviced and cleaned at least once a year," he said. "Make sure that the company that's doing it is reputable enough to know what they are doing."

Simply changing an oil furnace filter can make a tremendous difference in efficiency. Yet many people neglect such routine maintenance.

United States Department of Energy (D.O.E.) statistics show that 44 percent of the average home's energy use is devoted to heating and cooling. Silva suggests having your water heater tuned up as well. The appliance accounts for nearly 15 percent of your home energy use.

To further reduce heating costs, try lowering your thermostat. "Three or four degrees can make a big difference," Silva said. "If you're lazy, you can install a programmable thermostat that will lower and raise the temperature at convenient times."

The easy-to-install thermostats can be set to drop temperatures just before bedtime or warm the house in the morning before you rise. The D.O.E. estimates you can save 10 percent a year on heating and cooling bills just by turning your thermostat down 10 to 15 percent for eight hours while you sleep.

You can also increase energy savings by implementing home heating zones. Silva heats his home by levels, keeping the first floor warmer during the day and the second floor warmer at night.

Those without zone heating systems can sometimes approximate their benefits. "See if you can turn off your radiators," Silva explained. "Steam radiators usually have a lever so that you can shut off that radiator, close that room, and not waste heat."

Stop Drafts

Another tip: Remove window air conditioning units in the fall. "They are drafty, and they suck the heat right out of your house," Silva said. "You have to do something to stop that draft. If you're lazy, [use] an insulated jacket that goes on the exterior. They are still drafty but better than nothing."

For more savings, add weather stripping to your windows and doors. You can hire a professional or use a range of do-it-yourself products. Windows should be caulked on three sides, leaving the bottom to provide an escape for moisture. (Also, lock window sash locks to close windows more tightly.)

Continued on Next Page >>


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